The radical traditionalist response to Reflections on Covenant & Mission
Radical traditionalist exploitation of Fr. Fahey's definition of "anti-semitism"
A brief explication of "the teaching of contempt"
Resisting radical traditionalists' vilification of the Jews
Conflicting messages from the USCCB and the Vatican
Cardinal Kasper's misrepresentation of Dominus Iesus
Dominus Iesus: - mission to all without exception
John Paul II: no warrant for exclusion
The need for further clarification

On August 12, 2002 the Bishops Committee for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs, USCCB and the National Council of Synagogues published a document, Reflections on Covenant and Mission, consisting of separate Roman Catholic and Jewish reflections on the the topic of the covenant and its missiological implications. The Roman Catholic participants generated a large and understandable amount of excitement and controversy by proposing that "campaigns that target Jews for conversion to Christianity are no longer theologically acceptable in the Catholic Church."

The participants cited as basis for this proposition specific examples from Nostra Aetate and guidelines for the implementation thereof; Pope John Paul II's recognition of "the permanence of the Jewish people's covenant relationship with God" and the "continuous spiritual fecundity" of rabbinical Judaism from the Middle Ages to the present day; a paper by Prof. Tommaso Federici for the International Catholic-Jewish Liaison Committee in Venice, examining mission and witness of the Church in light of Nostra Aetate 1; and statements by Cardinal Walter Kasper, President of the Pontifical Commission for the Religious Relations with the Jews.

As might be expected, the document was imbued by the press with a greater degree of authority than it actually possessed by many in the press, construed and portrayed as a formal declaration of the Bishops of the USCCB. In the days and months Catholics witnessed a variety of responses and discussions -- some more calm, sober and reflective than others. The National Catholic Register held a symposium on the question "Should Catholic Evangelization Target Jews?" (Oct. 6-12, 2002), with predominantly critical responses to the document. Cardinal Avery Dulles responded as well in the pages of America (Oct. 14, 2002).

So great were the critical responses and overall confusion generated by Covenant and Mission that Cardinal Keeler was moved to issue a hasty clarification to the press that RCM represented "the state of thought among the participants of a dialogue", which was not to be taken as a formal statement by the USCCB or the Bishops' Committee for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs (BCEIA), but whose intended purpose was to "encourage serious reflection on these matters by Jews and Catholics in the U.S."

The radical traditionalist response to Reflections on Covenant & Mission

Radical Traditionalists also responded in a flurry of vehement and righteous protest against Reflections on Covenant and Mission, deeming it a convenient example of the post-conciliar Church's slide into apostasy under John Paul II and Cardinal Ratzinger. In the words of Christopher Ferrara, Covenant & Mission can only be considered "a response to the Vatican's green light on the repudiation of the Church's mission to the Jews." 2 Meanwhile, Robert Sungenis of Catholic Apologetics International alleged that the document was "one in a long line of Vatican attempts to advance the Zionist agenda and change Catholic teaching", launching into a long tirade of Zionist conspiracy-theorizing that made use of anti-semetic material, slanders against the Talmud and references to Holocaust revisionists. 3

Radical Traditionalists like Christopher Ferrara, Robert Sungenis, and John Vennari all adhere to a hardline supercessionist perspective of Catholic-Jewish relations -- which is to say, if they had their way, there wouldn't be any, at least with contemporary Jews and rabbinical Judaism. While the Guidelines for the implementation of Nostra Aetate call for Catholics to "acquire a better knowledge of . . . the religious tradition of Judaism, [and] strive to learn by what essential traits the Jews define themselves in the light of their own religious experience", these three authors have occupied themselves with hurling invectives against the Talmud 4 and perpetuating theories of a Zionist conspiracy that has subsumed the post-conciliar Church. And neither are they thrilled by Pope John Paul II's efforts to reconcile Catholics with the Jewish people. As Ferrara put it in a recent article in The Remnant 5:

When Pope John Paul performed the March 12 act of apology for sins "against the people of Israel," he prayed "God of our fathers, you chose Abraham and his descendants to bring your Name to the Nations: we are deeply saddened by the behavior of those who in the course of history have caused these children of yours to suffer, and asking your forgiveness we wish to commit ourselves to genuine brotherhood with the people of the Covenant. We ask this through Christ our Lord."

Father Fahey's writings, which are based on the consistent teachings of the Popes, reveal the gross deficiencies of this prayer, no matter how well-intentioned it may have been. In truth, only Roman Catholics can honestly be called "sons of Abraham," since it is only the Catholic religion which is faithful to the Faith of Abraham regarding the coming of the Redeemer. Only Roman Catholics can truly be called the "People of the Covenant," since Christ superseded the Old Covenant with His New Covenant by His Passion, Death, Resurrection, and the establishment of His one true ecclesia.28

Thus, the March 12 "prayer for forgiveness" was a bizarre inversion of what should have taken place. It is the Jewish Rabbis who should have been on their knees reciting this same prayer, asking Heaven's forgiveness for causing God's "children to suffer" by their de-Christianizing effect on the nations and for their opposition to Christ and His Kingship. It is the Jewish Rabbis who should have vowed to "commit ourselves to genuine brotherhood with the people of the Covenant," in other words, to repudiate their blasphemous Talmudic errors and convert to the New Covenant of Jesus Christ, the Holy Roman Catholic Church.

The 'Fr. Fahey' Ferrara refers to is Fr. Denis Fahey, held in high regard by many radical traditionalists (including the Society of St. Pius X), and waged a personal campaign against against "Jewish naturalism", or " the naturalistic Messianic domination of [The Jewish] nation over all the others". 6 It is interesting to note that Sungenis, Ferrara and Vennari, when speaking about the Jews, have all referred to Fr. Fahey's peculiar definition of anti-semitism, which is what I would like to address next.

The radical traditionalist exploitation of Fr. Fahey's definition of "anti-semitism"

Fr. Fahey adhered to a specific and personal definition of anti-semitism as that comes in quite handy for radical traditionalist critics to dismiss accusations that they personally dislike the Jews. As Vennari says in a recent article in Catholic Family News:

One of the finest writers who dealt with the subject of anti-Semitism was the eminent scholar, Father Denis Fahey. In his 1953 book The Kingship of Christ and the Conversion of the Jewish Nation, Father Fahey discussed the true nature of the word. He explains that "anti-Semitism" means hatred of Jews as a race and as such is sinful. "The Jews, however," says Fahey "use the word to designate any form of opposition to themselves, and they strive persistently to associate irrationality and want of balance with the term. They evidently want the world to believe that anyone who opposes Jewish pretensions is more or less deranged." 7

According to the Encyclopedia Brittanica, "anti-semitism" was coined in 1879 by Wilhelm Marr to designate anti-Jewish campaigns in central Europe at that time. Although it is a misnomer (implying discrimination against all semites), it is commonly understood to mean "hostility toward or discrimination against Jews as a religious, ethnic, or racial group" (Merriam-Webster).

Fr. Edward Flannery's Anguish of the Jews, a classic study of anti-semitism

In 1964 Fr. Edward Flannery published The Anguish of the Jews: Twenty Three Centuries of Anti-Semitism, according to whom:

The distinguishing mark of anti-semitism is a hatred, contempt and stereotyping of the Jewish people as such. . . . it should be distinguished therefore from indiscriminate hostility to which all peoples and groups have been prey; from anti-Judaism, a theological construct, with which it has often been intermingled; and from anti-Jewish manifestations that may lead to -- or in history have led to -- but do not possess the attributes specified above. 8

Flannery's book documents many kinds of anti-semitism, from the classical anti-semitism of Greeks & Romans (motivated by offense at the Jewish refusal to conform to the religious and social standards of Hellenistic culture) to the religious anti-semitism and anti-Judaism of the Christian Church (manifesting itself in persecution, pogroms, massacres, social degradations, and forced baptisms) to anti-semitism of modern times (motivated by economic resentment and racial hatred, and culminating in the Holocaust).

The Anguish of the Jews, revised and updated in 1984, is considered to be a classic history of the subject. Upon reading Flannery's history one can only conclude that Fahey's equasion of anti-semitism with racial hatred, while etymologically correct, is gravely insufficient.

Furthermore, Ferrara, Sungenis and Vennari's deferral to Fahey's definition of anti-semitism as exclusively racial hatred, conveniently enables them to dismiss other forms of anti-semitism and/or anti-Judaism, especially and including the "teaching of contempt" -- the tradition of theological interpretation which provided a religious basis for Christian persecution of the Jews over the course of history, and formally repudiated by the Church in Nostra Aetate.

Just what radical traditionalists think of "teaching of contempt" is illustrated in John Vennari's response to Rabbi Klenicki, whom he encountered while attending a Jewish-Christian dialogue meeting:

[Rabbi Klenicki] told us that Catholic theology had been poisoned by "triumphalism" and by what he called "anti-Judaism". He referred to the Catholic teaching of the Middle Ages as the "teaching of contempt". This so-called "teaching of contempt" is nothing more than the traditional Catholic doctrine that Christ put an end to the religion of the Old Covenant by fulfilling it, and superseding it with the New Covenant through the establishment of His one true Church. . . . Rabbi Klenicki, however, complained that the traditional Catholic teaching led to the belief that Jews were not saved, which led to the belief that Jews were inferior, which led to the belief that Jews were contemptible, "which led" he said "to Auschwitz".

Thus, the Rabbi advanced the false claim that it was the teaching of the Catholic Church that was ultimately responsible for the extermination of Jews in Nazi concentration camps under Hitler. 9

This relation of the "teaching of contempt" to the Holocaust was examined by the Vatican in the document We Remember: A Reflection on the Shoah. Although the Church asserted that "The Shoah was the work of a thoroughly modern neo-pagan regime. Its anti-Semitism had its roots outside of Christianity", it did consider the question "whether the Nazi persecution of the Jews was not made easier by the anti-Jewish prejudices imbedded in some Christian minds and hearts", and recognized that "the spiritual resistance and concrete action of other Christians was not that which might have been expected from Christ's followers."

For Vennari, however, the notion that certain teachings within Christianity fostered contempt for the Jews and led to the lack of Christian resistance to (and in some cases complicity with) persecution of the Jewish people under the Nazis, is simply preposterous.

A brief explication of "the teaching of contempt"

The 'teaching of contempt' was popularized by the French-Jewish history professor Jules Isaac, who with the advent of the Nazi invasion of France began to research the subject of the inexplicable silence and apathy of Christians toward Nazi persecution of European Jews, spurred by the loss of his wife and most of his family in 1943 in the Nazi death camps.

In 1947 Prof. Isaac published Jesus and Israel, a 600 page analysis of anti-semitism and Christianity which compared the texts of the Gospels with Catholic and Protestant scriptural commentaries conveying a distorted picture of Jesus' attitude toward Israel and Israel's attitude toward Jesus, and which he believed were largely responsible for the anti-semitic conditioning of European Christians. That same year, he met with Jewish and Catholic intellectuals to submit his Eighteen Points: specific recommendations for the purification of Christian teaching regarding the Jews.

In 1949, following the papal authorization to substitute the term "perfidis judaeis" with the milder "unfaithful" or "unbelieving" in the Good Friday prayer for the Jews, Isaac had an audience with Pope Pius XII to present his Eighteen Points and petition for further changes. In the years that followed Jules Isaac published several more works, including one on the fundamental differences between pagan and Christian anti-semitism, which argued that the latter, because it was theological, was more pernicious and persistent.

Prof. Isaac went on to meet Pope John XXIII in a private audience and petition for the formal removal of the "teaching of contempt" from Christian tradition -- a hope which was to be realized in Vatican II's Nostra Aetate, which not only issued a formal condemnation of the charge of deicide but conveyed a positive vision of the relationship between the Church and the Jewish people.

The first book by Isaac to be published in English is simply titled The Teaching of Contempt: Christian roots of Anti-Semitism, a basic presentation of his study of the subject. According to Isaac contempt for the Jews manifests itself in three main themes in Christian tradition:

  • The first theme is the "dispersion of Israel as a sign of providential punishment," beginning with the capture of Jerusalem and destruction of the Temple in 70 A.D, which Christians understood as God's retribution for the crucifixion of Christ.
  • The second theme is the "degenarate state of Judaism at the time of Jesus", in which Christianity portrayed the Jewish religion in Jesus' time as "desiccated, ossified, reduced to mere formalism and ritual . . . legalism without a soul, without ferver, without true aspiration towards God."
  • The third theme was the "crime of deicide", and the application of collective guilt upon the Jewish people as a whole. Christianity came to depict the Jews "as Cain, as Judas, as a murderous people, a 'deicide' people . . . an abomination to the Christian world." Thus the role of Pontius Pilate and the Roman soldiers would be increasingly subordinated to that of the Jews in the preaching and teaching of the Church fathers.

In this small book Jules Isaac would present each of these themes in the historical writings of the Church, from the time of the fathers through the twentieth century -- and he would counter each of them in turn with historical evidence to the contrary, as well as appealing to the scriptures themselves and the spirit of Christ:

Christ is said to have pronounced a sentence of alienation and condemnation upon the Jewish people. But why, in contradiction of his own gospel of love and forgiveness, should he had condemned his own people, the only people to whom he chose to speak -- his own people, among whom he found not only bitter enemies, but fervent disciples and adoring followers? We have every reason to believe that the real object of his condemnation was a certain pharisaism to be found in al times and in all peoples, in every religion and in every church. 10

Resisting radical traditionalists' vilification of the Jews

Recognizing the contribution of certain interpretations in Christian tradition to fostering a contempt of the Jews, Vatican II responded to the Shoah by calling for a re-evaluation of the historical Judaism of the Old Testament, a condemnation of the charge of deicide, and an appreciation for the positive aspects of contemporary rabbinic Judaism and the witness of the Jewish people in our day and age.

The supercessionist theological conception of the relationship between the Old and New Covenant perpetuated by traditional Catholics like Ferrara and Sungenis, depicting the Jewish people as being utterly abandoned by God and the Jewish Covenant as revoked, must be firmly countered by the recognition of Israel's continuing covenant relationship with God, as expressed by the Church in light of St. Paul's reflections on the enduring mercy of a God who is faithful to his promises:

For Paul, Jesus' establishment of "the new covenant in [his] blood" (1 Co 11:25), does not imply any rupture of God's covenant with his people, but constitutes its fulfilment. He includes "the covenants" among the privileges enjoyed by Israel, even if they do not believe in Christ (Rm 9:4). Israel continues to be in a covenant relationship and remains the people to whom the fulfilment of the covenant was promised, because their lack of faith cannot annul God's fidelity (Rm 11:29). Even if some Israelites have observed the Law as a means of establishing their own justice, the covenant-promise of God, who is rich in mercy (Rm 11:26-27), cannot be abrogated. Continuity is underlined by affirming that Christ is the end and the fulfilment to which the Law was leading the people of God (Ga 3:24). For many Jews, the veil with which Moses covered his face remains over the Old Testament (2 Co 3:13,15), thus preventing them from recognising Christ's revelation there. This becomes part of the mysterious plan of God's salvation, the final outcome of which is the salvation of "all Israel" (Rm 11:26). 11

One of the best summaries of this new vision of the Jewish-Christian relationship is found in the reflections of Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger:

Certainly, from the very beginning, relations between the infant Church and Israel were often marked by conflict. The Church was considered by her own mother to be a degenerate daughter, while Christians considered their mother to be blind and obstinate. Down through the history of Christianity, already-strained relations deteriorated further, even giving birth in many cases to anti-Jewish attitudes, which throughout history have led to deplorable acts of violence. Even if the most recent, loathsome experience of the Shoah was perpetrated in the name of an anti-Christian ideology, which tried to strike the Christian faith at its Abrahamic roots in the people of Israel, it cannot be denied that a certain insufficient resistance to this atrocity on the part of Christians can be explained by an inherited anti-Judaism present in the hearts of not a few Christians.

Perhaps it is precisely because of this latest tragedy that a new vision of the relationship between the Church and Israel has been born: a sincere willingness to overcome every kind of anti-Judaism, and to initiate a constructive dialogue based on knowledge of each other, and on reconciliation. If such a dialogue is to be fruitful, it must begin with a prayer to our God, first of all that he might grant to us Christians a greater esteem and love for that people, the people of Israel, to whom belong "the adoption as sons, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises; theirs are the patriarchs, and from them comes Christ according to the flesh, he who is over all, God, blessed forever. Amen" (Romans 9:4-5), and this not only in the past, but still today, "for the gifts and the call of God are irrevocable" (Romans 11:29). In the same way, let us pray that he may grant also to the children of Israel a deeper knowledge of Jesus of Nazareth, who is their son, and the gift they have made to us. Since we are both awaiting the final redemption, let us pray that the paths we follow may converge. 12

Conflicting Messages from the USCCB and the Vatican

It is one thing to contend on the basis of this new appreciation for Jews and Judaism as expressed in Nostrae Aetate to call for the cessation of proselytism and missionary tactics which infringed upon human dignity and religious freedom. It is quite another to argue, as do the authors of Reflections on Covenant and Mission, that the Jewish people are exempt from the Church's missionary mandate to spread the gospel to the nations.

In spite of the objectionable content found in radical traditionalist portrayal of the Jews, I believe they are correct about this: it must be admitted that with respect to the question of whether a mission -- understood as catechesis and the invitation to baptism -- to the Jews was acceptable in the Catholic Church today, we are receiving conflicting messages by prominent members of the clergy, not only those of the USCCB but within the Vatican itself. For even though Cardinal Keeler has rejected the popular misconception that Covenant and Mission represented a formal teaching of the Catholic Church, prominent members of the dialogue are contributing to that very impression by publicly agreeing with and promoting the conclusions of the authors.

As Associate Director of the Secretariat for Ecumenical and Interreligious Relations, Eugene Fisher is has often had to publicly address the issue of converting Jews to Christianity. In addition to referring to the paper by Tommaco Federici on the subject mentioned earlier, Fisher has on numerous occasions advanced the argument that the revisions to the Good Friday prayer for the Jews provide a theological basis for the relenquishment of a specific mission.

Beginning with Pope Pius XII's mandate in 1950 that the term perfideles be translated in liturgical books as "unbelieving" or "unfaithful" rather than "perfidious"; Pope John XIII's subsequent abolishment of the term altogether, and the extensive revisions of the prayer by the Second Vatican Council, Fisher concludes:

The reform of the Liturgy mandated by the Second Vatican Council, however, re-conceptualized and rewrote the prayer entirely. It now reads:
    Let us pray for the Jewish people,
    the first to hear the word of God
    that they may continue to grow in the love of his Name
    and in faithfulness to his covenant.
    Almighty and eternal God, long ago you gave your promise to Abraham and his posterity.
    Listen to your Church as we pray that the people you first made your own
    may arrive at the fullness of redemption.

The phrase, "fullness of redemption," here, is not historical but eschatological. Like St. Paul in Romans 11 it remands the issue to God's mercy, to be revealed at the end of time. I believe this was intentional as a way of resolving the question in the present dispensation. So, no, the Church does not wish the conversion of the Jews as a people to Christianity. Otherwise she would at least pray for it. This does not, of course, preclude the acceptance into the Church of individual Jews whose own, personal spiritual lives have lead them to our faith. Such a policy of exclusion would in my opinion be itself a travesty of the principles of religious freedom. 13

Cardinal Kasper's misrepresentation of Dominus Iesus

Like the Catholic participants of Covenant and Mission, Eugene Fisher also refers to the words of Cardinal Kasper, President of the Pontifical Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews, in May 2001, responding to Jewish concerns over the missiological implications of Dominus Iesus for the Jewish people. Statements which, because of the nature of his office, carry far more weight than those of Covenant and Mission [emphasis mine]:

Kasper's declaration, while not quite on the order of the statement of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith which it interprets, is nonetheless not simply another "opinion." It was issued on a formal occasion when the Cardinal was speaking for the Catholic Church to the Jewish People. So it represents the definitive statement by the Holy See itself of the meaning of DI for Catholic-Jewish relations. 14

Kasper notes the postive appreciation of Judaism by Nostra Aetate, and by Pope John Paul II. He correctly notes the unique character of the Church's evaluation of Judaism among the rest of the world's religions:

As Pope John Paul II has put it on more than one occasion, "our two religious communities are connected and closely related at the very level of their religious identities" (his addresses of 12 March, 1973, and 6 March, 1982); and during his historic visit to the Synagogue of Rome on 13 April, 1986: "The Jewish religion is not 'extrinsic'to us, but in a certain way is 'intrinsic'to our own religion. With Judaism, therefore, we have a relationship which we do not have with any other religion. You are our dearly beloved brothers and, in a certain way, it could be said that you are our elder brothers". 15

On the question of the status of the Jewish covenant, Kasper assures them that "the old theory of substitution is gone since II Vatican Council. For us Christians today the covenant with the Jewish people is a living heritage, a living reality." And since Dominis Iesus was specifically concerned with correcting certain attempts by theologians engaged in dialogue to arrive at a "universal theology" of interreligious relations leading in some cases to indifferentism, relativism and syncretism, the Jewish people have no basis for concern, because Dominis Iesus has no bearing upon the theology of Catholic-Jewish relations.

And yet, contrary to his initial assertion that Dominus Iesus is not directly concerned with Jewish-Christian relations, Cardinal Kasper proceeds to state -- on the basis of Dominus Iesus -- that the salvific universality of Jesus Christ specifically absolves the Jews of any need to convert:

The only thing I wish to say is that the Document Dominus Iesus does not state that everybody needs to become a Catholic in order to be saved by God. On the contrary, it declares that God's grace, which is the grace of Jesus Christ according to our faith, is available to all. Therefore, the Church believes that Judaism, i.e. the faithful response of the Jewish people to God's irrevocable covenant, is salvific for them, because God is faithful to his promises.

This touches the problem of mission towards Jews, a painful question with regard to forced conversion in the past. Dominus Iesus, as other official documents, raised this question again saying that dialogue is a part of evangelisation. This stirred Jewish suspicion. But this is a language problem, since the term evangelisation, in official Church documents, cannot be understood in the same way it is commonly interpreted in everyday's speech. In strict theological language, evangelisation is a very complex and overall term, and reality. It implies presence and witness, prayer and liturgy, proclamation and catechesis, dialogue and social work . . . which do not have the goal of increasing the number of Catholics. Thus evangelisation, if understood in its proper and theological meaning, does not imply any attempt of proselytism whatsoever. 16

Note Cardinal Kasper's line of reasoning: Dominus Iesus emphasizes the necessity of evangelization. But evangelization is a highly complex term, and doesn't necessarily mean "increasing the number of Catholics" (presumably through conversion). Consequently, Jews need not be concerned because DI does not imply any attempt of proselytism whatsoever.

But what does "proselytism" really mean? And is Cardinal Kasper's understanding of the term correct? -- According to Cardinal Francis Arinze, former head of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious dialogue and one quite familiar with the term, proselytism is generally understood to mean the effort to spread one's religion by methods that are regarded as unnacceptable. Examples of proselytism include coercion by physical (through harrassment and threat of violence), economic (through the promise of material gifts), and psychological (taking advantage of one's ignorance) means, all of which deserve condemnation since they insult the human dignity of the recipient, infringes upon one's religious freedom, and does no honor to God.

But, Cardinal Arinze adds,

There is, however, a use of the word proselytism that is unacceptable. Some people use the word to refer to every effort to propose one's religion to others, even when the methods used are noble, honest and respectful. It is worng and confusing to use the term in this sense. It is like giving a dog a bad name in order to hang it. It is like wanting to deny and to condemn the right of a person to share one's religion. This fundamental human right should never be denied to anyone. 17

In light of Arinze's clarification of the term, Cardinal Kasper's statement that Dominus Iesus's promotion of evangelization excludes any attempt at proselytization is faulty -- since it equates proselytization with a sharing of the gospel with others and gives the impression to his audience that such is prohibited in Jewish-Christian relations.

Dominus Iesus - mission to all without exception

Does Dominus Iesus's insistence on the universal salvicity of Jesus Christ imply that Jews are exempt from the Church's missionary mandate? -- Cardinal Kasper answers in the affirmative. A closer examination of the text of the document, and Cardinal Ratzinger's defense of that document, argue to the contrary.

Cardinal Kasper and Dr. Fisher are certainly correct in noting that the Church teaches that those outside the visible boundaries of the Church can attain salvation through the grace of Jesus Christ. As Pope John Paul II states in the encyclical Redemptoris Missio

The universality of salvation means that it is granted not only to those who explicitly believe in Christ and have entered the Church. Since salvation is offered to all, it must be made concretely available to all. But it is clear that today, as in the past, many people do not have an opportunity to come to know or accept the gospel revelation or to enter the Church. The social and cultural conditions in which they live do not permit this, and frequently they have been brought up in other religious traditions. For such people salvation in Christ is accessible by virtue of a grace which, while having a mysterious relationship to the Church, does not make them formally part of the Church but enlightens them in a way which is accommodated to their spiritual and material situation. This grace comes from Christ; it is the result of his Sacrifice and is communicated by the Holy Spirit. It enables each person to attain salvation through his or her free cooperation.

For this reason the Council, after affirming the centrality of the Paschal Mystery, went on to declare that "this applies not only to Christians but to all people of good will in whose hearts grace is secretly at work. Since Christ died for everyone, and since the ultimate calling of each of us comes from God and is therefore a universal one, we are obliged to hold that the Holy Spirit offers everyone the possibility of sharing in this Paschal Mystery in a manner known to God." 18

Consequently the unique mediation and universal salvicity of Jesus Christ is extended to all humanity beyond the visible boundaries of the Church, and allows the possibility for non-Christians (including the Jews) to respond to that grace by following what light of truth is available to them.

But this is not simply all there is to it: Dominis Iesus, while reiterating the Church's teaching, follows its assertion of the universal salvicity of Jesus Christ with an equally emphatic assertion that individual salvation through Christ cannot be understood as an isolated process, separate and against the Church:

[20.] Above all else, it must be firmly believed that "the Church, a pilgrim now on earth, is necessary for salvation: the one Christ is the mediator and the way of salvation; he is present to us in his body which is the Church. He himself explicitly asserted the necessity of faith and baptism (cf. Mk 16:16; Jn 3:5), and thereby affirmed at the same time the necessity of the Church which men enter through baptism as through a door". This doctrine must not be set against the universal salvific will of God (cf. 1 Tim 2:4); "it is necessary to keep these two truths together, namely, the real possibility of salvation in Christ for all mankind and the necessity of the Church for this salvation".

The Church is the "universal sacrament of salvation", since, united always in a mysterious way to the Saviour Jesus Christ, her Head, and subordinated to him, she has, in God's plan, an indispensable relationship with the salvation of every human being.Ý For those who are not formally and visibly members of the Church, "salvation in Christ is accessible by virtue of a grace which, while having a mysterious relationship to the Church, does not make them formally part of the Church, but enlightens them in a way which is accommodated to their spiritual and material situation. This grace comes from Christ; it is the result of his sacrifice and is communicated by the Holy Spirit";81 it has a relationship with the Church, which "according to the plan of the Father, has her origin in the mission of the Son and the Holy Spirit".

21. With respect to the way in which the salvific grace of God -- which is always given by means of Christ in the Spirit and has a mysterious relationship to the Church -- comes to individual non-Christians, the Second Vatican Council limited itself to the statement that God bestows it "in ways known to himself". Theologians are seeking to understand this question more fully. Their work is to be encouraged, since it is certainly useful for understanding better God's salvific plan and the ways in which it is accomplished. However, from what has been stated above about the mediation of Jesus Christ and the "unique and special relationship" which the Church has with the kingdom of God among men -- which in substance is the universal kingdom of Christ the Saviour -- it is clear that it would be contrary to the faith to consider the Church as one way of salvation alongside those constituted by the other religions, seen as complementary to the Church or substantially equivalent to her, even if these are said to be converging with the Church toward the eschatological kingdom of God. 19

I believe that Cardinal Kasper certainly comprehends the entire meaning of Dominus Iesus. However, when he informs a predominantly Jewish audience that Dominus Iesus means "it is not necessary to become a Catholic in order to be saved by God", and assures them that "Judaism, i.e. the faithful response of the Jewish people to God's irrevocable covenant, is salvific for them, because God is faithful to his promises" -- without providing any degree of theological clarification of these points, he assists in fostering an attitude of ambivalence towards the necessity of Jesus Christ and his Church for salvation.

Dominus Iesus' caution to theologian that "it would be contrary to the faith to consider the Church as one way of salvation alongside those constituted by the other religions" could certainly be seen as applicable to Cardinal Kasper's presentation of the Jewish Covenant -- especially when this caution is also stated by the Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews:

"In virtue of her divine mission, the Church" which is to be "the all-embracing means of salvation" in which alone "the fulness of the means of salvation can be obtained" (Unit. Red. 3); "must of her nature proclaim Jesus Christ to the world" (cf. Guidelines and Suggestions, I). Indeed we believe that is is through him that we go to the Father (cf. Jn. 14:6) "and this is eternal life, that they know thee the only true God and Jesus Christ whom thou hast sent" (Jn 17:33).

Jesus affirms (ibid. 10:16) that "there shall be one flock and one shepherd". Church and Judaism cannot then be seen as two parallel ways of salvation and the Church must witness to Christ as the Redeemer for all, "while maintaining the strictest respect for religious liberty in line with the teaching of the Second Vatican Council (Declaration Dignitatis Humanae)" (Guidelines and Suggestions, I). 20

Dominus Iesus, furthermore, is insists the missionary mandate of the Church, which is obligated to proclaim the truth of salvation to all without exception [emphasis mine]:

In inter-religious dialogue as well, the mission ad gentes "today as always retains its full force and necessity". "Indeed, God 'desires all men to be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth' (1 Tim 2:4); that is, God wills the salvation of everyone through the knowledge of the truth. Salvation is found in the truth. Those who obey the promptings of the Spirit of truth are already on the way of salvation. But the Church, to whom this truth has been entrusted, must go out to meet their desire, so as to bring them the truth. Because she believes in God's universal plan of salvation, the Church must be missionary". . . . Indeed, the Church, guided by charity and respect for freedom, must be primarily committed to proclaiming to all people the truth definitively revealed by the Lord, and to announcing the necessity of conversion to Jesus Christ and of adherence to the Church through Baptism and the other sacraments, in order to participate fully in communion with God, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Thus, the certainty of the universal salvific will of God does not diminish, but rather increases the duty and urgency of the proclamation of salvation and of conversion to the Lord Jesus Christ. 21

Defending Dominus Iesus in an interview with Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, Cardinal Ratzinger was pressed with the question of the necessity of the Church's mission, "if, in the end, man can reach God by all paths" -- or, in the words of Cardinal Kasper, "one does not have to become Catholic to be saved"). The Cardinal responded:

"Those who seek the truth find themselves objectively on the path that leads to Christ, and thus also on the path to the community in which he remains present in history, that is, to the Church. To seek the truth, to listen to one's conscience, to purify one's interior hearing, these are the conditions of salvation for all. They have a profound, objective connection with Christ and the Church. In this sense we say that other religions have rites and prayers which can play a role of preparing for the Gospel, of occasions or pedagogical helps in which the human heart is prompted to open itself to God's action.

The way of conscience, the keeping of one's gaze focused on truth and the objective good, is one single way, although it can take many forms because of the great number of individuals and situations. The good is one, however, and truth does not contradict itself. The fact that man does not attain one or the other does not relativize the requirement of truth and goodness. For this reason it is not enough to continue in the religion one has inherited, but one must remain attentive to the true good and thus be able to transcend the limits of one's own religion. This has meaning only if truth and goodness really exist. It would be impossible to walk the way of Christ if he did not exist. Living with the eyes of the heart open, purifying oneself inwardly and seeking the light are indispensable conditions of human salvation. Proclaiming the truth, that is, making the light shine (not putting it 'under a bushel, but on a stand'), is absolutely necessary." 22

John Paul II: no warrant for exclusion

What does John Paul II say regarding a mission to the Jews? The authors of Covenant and Mission and Cardinal Kasper defend their conclusion with an appeal the Pope's appreciation of Judaism and his (often-quoted) insistence, following St. Paul, that "the covenant has not been revoked." But as Cardinal Avery Dulles notes in his response to Covenant and Mission:

[Pope John Paul II] declares that "missionary evangelization is the primary service that the Church can render to every individual and all humanity in the modern world" (R.M., No. 2). The call to conversion, says the pope, must not be dismissed as "proselytization" in the pejorative sense of that word, since it corresponds to the right of every person to hear the good news of the God who gives himself in Christ. Conversion to Christ, he notes, is intrinsically joined to baptism as the sacrament of regeneration (No. 47). While he does not "target" Jews in any special way for conversion, he makes no exception for them. He simply assumes, as all Christians must, that if Christ is the redeemer of the world, every tongue should confess him. If Jesus offers a share in his divine life through the sacraments, all men and women, not excluding Jews, should be invited to the banquet. 23

And as Rev. Michael McGarry, C.S.P. observes in his analysis of Redemptoris Missio in relation to the question "Can Catholics make an exception?":

[Like Pope Paul IV in Evangelii Nuntiandi], Pope John Paul II says nothing about the Jewish people in Redemptoris Missio. Rather the beneficiaries of the Church's missionary task ad extra are all peoples without exception. ("The universality of salvation means that it is granted not only to those who explicitly believe in Christ and have entered the must be made concretely available to all"). . . . The Pope's view of the Jewish role in salvation, at least in this document, is decidedly prefatory; Jewish life and religion after the time of Jesus and their continued witness to the world of God's faithfulness are neither mentioned nor alluded to. However, what is interesting in the Pope's description of the mission from our focused concern is precisely its emphasis, if not sole direction, towards the Gentiles and not towards Israel.

What are we to conclude, therefore, about what Pope John Paul has said about the Jews in RM?

  • Like his predecessor, Pope John Paul II does not call for an explicit mission to the Jews (nor does he exclude the Jews from the Church's mission);
  • The meaning of the Jewish people to and in the world after the time of Jesus is left unmentioned.

The need for further clarification

In spite of the criticisms of Cardinal Avery Dulles and Cardinal Ratzinger, it certainly appears that the exemption of the Jews to the Church's call for conversion, together with a conception of the Jewish covenant that possesses a salvific status of its own, seemingly apart from the work of Christ or any relationship (however mysterious) with the Church, are representative of the state of mind of Catholic participants engaging in dialogue with Jews today.

So long as prominent members of the Church like Eugene Fisher (associate director of the Secretariat for Ecumenical and Interreligious Relations) and Cardinal Kasper (President of the Pontifical Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews) express their agreement with the conclusions of Reflections of Covenant and Mission over and against other prominent members of the clergy (Cardinal Dulles and Cardinal Ratzinger, among others), there will continue to be a great deal of confusion in the minds of many laymen -- not to mention those outside the Church -- on this very question.

The need for further clarification from the Vatican -- perhaps by way of a formal doctrinal note from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith -- on this matter is made all the more imperative, given the manner in which radical traditionalists and others on the Catholic fringe have used the conclusions of Covenant & Mission and Cardinal Kasper in their vehement assault upon the integrity of Pope John Paul II and the Catholic Church.

I firmly believe that Nostra Aetate's repudiation of the teaching of contempt and the development of a positive appreciation of Jews and contemporary Judaism is one of the greatest achievements of the Second Vatican Council, and that members of those commissions engaging in interreligious dialogue with the Jews have done a remarkable job of bringing about the Church's reconciliation with our "elder sisters and brothers in the faith." But such a reconciliation cannot be attained at the cost of reneging on the Church's obligation to bring the gospel of Christ to all people.

Let us hope and pray that the Vatican will see fit in the future to present a unified response to Reflections on Covenant and Mission, and assist in putting an end to the conflicting messages we are currently receiving.

  1. Study Outline on the Mission and Witness of the Church, by Tommaso Federici, presented at the sixth meeting of the Liaison Committee between the Roman Catholic Church and the International Jewish Committee for Interreligious Consultations, held in Venice at Casa Cardinal Piazza March 27 to 30, 1977. Tommaso argued on historical and theological grounds that there should be in the Church no organizations of any kind dedicated to the conversion of Jews. This has over the ensuing years been the de facto practice of the Catholic Church.
  2. "Propping up the Great Facade" , The Remnant Catholic Forthnightly. [Reprinted on the Daily Catholic website].
  3. Sungenis' outbursts and headlong embrace of radical traditionalism prompted many of his colleagues and mainstream Catholic organizations such as EWTN to sever ties with Catholic Apologetics International. He has since removed the offending piece which, along with another titled "The Jewish Talmud - A Sacred Book?", are under revision and will "be reposted in the first week of November [2002] with much more significant information, as well as a good measure of sensitivity to all parties involved." (Readers are still waiting). Bill Cork has written an analysis of the original article in a piece titled "Anti-Semitism and the Catholic Right".
  4. According to the Anti-Defamation League, the Talmud -- the classic text of Jewish law and lore, history and philosophy -- is increasingly being used to perpetuate anti-semetic portrayals of Jews as "perverted" and "immoral", and have issued a response addressing such charges. John Vennari has often cited such charges, his latest in an article "The Attack on the Oberammergau Passion Play", on Jewish criticisms of and revisions to anti-semitic content in the Obberamergau Passion Play (Catholic Family News, May 2003).
  5. A Commentary on Father Fahey's The Kingship of Christ and the Conversion of the Jewish Nation, by John Vennari. The Remnant. September 30, 2000.
  6. Sandra Meisel covered Fr. Fahey, among others, in the article "Swinging at Windmills: A Close Look at Catholic Conspiracy Theories" Crisis Magazine, Dec. 2003.

    In "Fr Denis Fahey on Anti-Semitism", Fr. Fahey reminds his readers that "Catholics should neither hate [the Jews] . . . nor deny them their legitimate rights as persons." And yet, in a "A Brief Sketch of My Life's Work", Fr. Fahey quotes approvingly Pope St. Pius V' expulsion of the Jews from the Papal territories, according to whom:

    "Their wickedness, which has been developed by every evil art, has now reached such a point that, in view of our common safety, We feel it expedient to check the spread of such a disease by applying a speedy remedy ....We have clear and definite proof how this perverse race hates the name of Christ, how hostile they are to all who bear His name and by what tricks and frauds they plot against the lives of Christians ...." [The Angelus January 2001, Volume XXVI, Number 1.]

    I personally find it incomprehensible how one can both condemn racial anti-semitism and yet endorse such a contemptuous view of Jews that has fueled so many malicious words and acts in the history of the Church.

  7. Vennari, "The Attack on the Oberammergau Passion Play", Catholic Family News May 2003.
  8. The Anguish of the Jews: Twenty Three Centuries of Anti-Semitism. Paulist Press; Revised and Updated edition (October 1985).
  9. Vennari, "The Attack on the Oberammergau Passion Play", Catholic Family News May 2003.
  10. The Teaching of Contempt: The Christian Roots of Anti-Semitism by Jules Isaac. Holt, Rinehart & Winston, 1964.
  11. The Jewish People and their Sacred Scriptures in the Christian Bible. The Pontifical Biblical Commission (2001).
  12. "The Heritage of Abraham: The Gift of Christmas". L'Osservatore Romano, December 29, 2000.

    Also recommended is the address "Interreligious Dialogue and Jewish-Christian Relations". Presented at a session of the Academy of Moral and Political Sciences, Paris. It first appeared in Communio 26 (1997), and was republished in Many Religions, One Covenant (Ignatius Press, Sept. 1999).

  13. The New Agenda of Catholic-Jewish Relations: A Response to Edward Kessler, by Eugene Fisher. Originally published in The Tablet under the heading "Why Convert the Saved?" on July 14, 2001.
  14. Ibid.
  15. Dominus Iesus, an assessment by Cardinal Kasper, President of the Pontifical Council for Religious Relations with the Jews. Delivered at the 17th meeting of the International Catholic-Jewish Liaison Committee, New York, May 1, 2001.
  16. Ibid.
  17. Meeting Other Believers: The Risks and Rewards of Interreligious Dialogue, by Cardinal Francis Arinze. Our Sunday Visitor, 1998. Needless to say, the tragic history of Jewish-Christian relations has emphasized the need for the Church to disengage itself from any manner of proselytism towards the Jews of the sort described by Cardinal Arinze.
  18. Redemptoris Missio - "On the permanent validity of the Church's missionary mandate". Pope John Paul II. Dec. 17, 1990. P. 10.
  19. Dominus Iesus - On the Unicity and Salvific Universality of Jesus Christ and the Church. Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. August 6, 2000. P. 20.
  20. NOTES on the correct way to present the Jews and Judaism in preaching and catechesis in the Roman Catholic Church. Commission for the Religious Relations with the Jews. June 24, 1985.
  21. Dominus Iesus - P. 22.
  22. Answers to the main objections to Dominus Iesus. Interview with Cardinal Ratzinger in Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung on Sepember 22, 2000. Translated into Italian and reprinted in L'Osservatore Romano Nov. 22, 2000.
  23. "Covenant & Mission", by Cardinal Avery Dulles. America. Oct. 14, 2002.
  24. "Can Catholics Make an Exception? - Jews and 'The New Evangelization'", by Fr. McGarry, presently the rector of the Tantur Ecumenical Institute for Theological Studies near Jerusalem. Presented during the second Remembering for the Future conference in Berlin, Germany, March 13-17, 1994.

Additional Resources:

  • Center for Jewish-Christian Learning of Boston College. (Many of the documents cited in this essay are archived on this website).
  • SIDIC. Service International de Documentation JudÈo-ChrÈtienne (International Jewish-Christian Documentation Service) is a Study and Documentation Center founded in Rome in 1965 at the request of a group of Bishops and experts from Vatican Council II.
Christopher Blosser is the webmaster for the Cardinal Ratzinger Fan Club. When he's not engaged in maintenance and updates of this website he posts occasional musings on various issues in Catholic theology to his blog.

This is his first contribution to the Ratzinger Forum.

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